More than 100 Israeli and international civil society organisations have asked the United Nations to reject a controversial definition of antisemitism because it is being “misused” to protect Israel from legitimate criticism.
The groups have written to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, saying he should resist pressure from Israel to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) “working definition of antisemitism”. The definition has been accepted by the US state department, several European governments including the UK and Germany, and EU bodies after strong lobbying by pro-Israel groups and others.
“Adoption of the definition by governments and institutions is often framed as an essential step in efforts to combat antisemitism. In practice, however, the IHRA definition has often been used to wrongly label criticism of Israel as antisemitic, and thus chill and sometimes suppress, non-violent protest, activism and speech critical of Israel and/or Zionism, including in the US and Europe,” the letter said.
Signatories include Israel’s largest human rights group, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Israeli and Palestinian civil society groups.
Some of the signatories are concerned that if Guterres formally adopts the IHRA definition it will be used to curb criticisms of Israeli policies by UN bodies including the special rapporteur for the occupied territories.
The letter notes that application of the definition has been widely criticised including by Ken Stern who, as the American Jewish Committee’s antisemitism expert, led its drafting two decades ago. Earlier this year, Stern successfully urged the American Bar Association against adopting the definition because it has been used as “a blunt instrument to label anyone an antisemite”.